business news in context, analysis with attitude

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has decided on a policy shift that will result in consumers being informed about which food stores have stocked meat or poultry products identified as being contaminated and recalled. The move comes months after USDA refused to publicly identify the schools and stores that received contaminated meat from the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., even though those products were involved in the largest beef recall in US history. In recent weeks, there also have been smaller recalls involving Kroger and the Nebraska beef company.

However, there are limitations to the new policy. The Los Angeles Times reports that “Agriculture Secretary Edward T. Schafer announced that the rule change would apply only to recalls involving ‘a reasonable probability of serious health consequences or death for those with weakened immune systems’.”

The Times also notes that “the new policy, which will take effect in 30 days, drew faint praise from lawmakers and food safety advocates. Food retailers were critical, arguing that it would not give consumers accurate enough information.

"’The most important information for consumers to have in a USDA recall is the brand name, container size and manufacturer coding information marked on meat and poultry products,’ said Robert Brackett, chief science officer of the Grocery Manufacturers Assn., citing information that is already made available during a recall.”

KC's View:
Here we go again…

At the risk of repeating myself, it simply doesn’t make sense in this day and age not to be completely transparent in such cases. If a product has been identified as being tainted or is being recalled, it is up to government and industry to provide as much specific information to consumers as possible – the name of the product, the sizes of the product, any relevant coding information, and where the product has been sold.

To do otherwise is not just bad public policy and irresponsible. It also is bad business.

Technology makes it possible to be completely transparent and to have accurate traceability systems. The rest of the world is becoming more transparent…and yet for some reason people in the food chain think that resistance is a legitimate and reasonable strategy.

It makes no sense.